I’ll lay my cards on the table: I’ve never been a big Marmite fan. It’s not my least favourite spreadable yeast extract – that honour goes to VITAM-R, a viscous, pungent, pale-brown paste available mainly in German health food shops. Nevertheless it’s safe to say that the great Marmite drought of 2012 left me unfazed.
When the drought broke earlier this year we experienced a rare event in the grocery industry: a humble breakfast spread had an actual release date, as if it were the latest mobile phone or console game. The fact that a supermarket accidentally broke this faintly ridiculous embargo was apparently news. I’m not sure if this represents capitalism’s peak, or its nadir.
Overall the amount of marketing mileage the manufacturers of Marmite managed to squeeze from the shortage was remarkable. Marmite enthusiasts demonstrated an almost religious brand loyalty that is hard to imagine amongst aficionados of alternative toast toppings such as peanut butter or grapefruit marmalade.
Given this zealotry, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the manufacturers of Marmite turn out to be owned outright by the Seventh Day Adventist Church (it’s hard not to think that if they marketed their religion as effectively as they do their breakfast spread then it would be way more popular here). Church ownership means that any profits generated by Sanitarium – New Zealand’s number one cereal manufacturer – are tax free, as they’re used to fund the church’s charitable works.
Adventists have some interesting beliefs – for example they’re apparently young earth creationists, and furthermore they seem to believe in an imminent and apocalyptic second coming (presumably “Marmageddon” was merely a precursor). So far, so harmless. But like many Christian sects, they also have some fairly traditional views on homosexuality (spoiler alert: they’re against it), and senior leaders in the New Zealand church have actively added their voices to the movement against marriage equality.
This stance isn’t terribly uncommon; 68 other church leaders added their signatures to the letter linked to above. However last time I checked the Catholic Church wasn’t trying to sell me breakfast cereal. There are no doubt plenty of other grocery manufacturers whose owners have hateful views but equally there are plenty whose owners do not. It falls to us as consumers to choose which corporate owners we should implicitly support the views of, and which corporate practices we should explicitly fund.
Of course, it’s easy for me to take the high ground. As I’ve already said, I’ve never much liked Marmite – I always preferred Vegemite. Which, conveniently for my sanctimonious argument, is no longer wholly owned by a tobacco company (I have no comment on whether I continued to purchase it while it was).
Enjoy your hate spread, Marmite fans. My toast tastes of delicious tolerance.
(Image: Marmite on toast, CC BY-NC 2.0 image by SilverStack)